Wednesday, April 24, 2024

WWII air force hero dies at 100

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Keith Boles, a former RAF Squadron Leader, has died aged 100.

Proud Howickian Keith Marwood Boles, one of the few remaining New Zealanders who served in RAF Bomber Command in World War II, has died.

His family said he passed away peacefully on October 24, three months short of his 101st birthday.

Daughter Sue Popping said Boles welcomed his newest great-grandson just before his death.

“We are so sad to lose such a wonderful father who was an inspirational leader of our family,” Popping said.

“He was also such a courageous, dignified and respected man, a Howick identity and revered by his old and new air-force friends and all who knew him.  He will be dearly missed.

“I was able to tell my father of the birth of his newest great-grandson just four days before he died, so we are looking at Dad’s passing as a time to celebrate two lives over 100 years apart.

“The whole family sincerely thank all the staff at Ambridge Rose Manor in Pakuranga for the amazing care they gave to Dad during his time there.”

Squadron Leader Keith Boles (DFC) joined the RNZAF in 1941. He trained as a pilot and was posted to Singapore, then evacuated when the Japanese invaded. Returning to New Zealand he then volunteered to be posted to England, serving initially as a flying instructor before joining 109 Squadron where he flew 52 operations over Europe, primarily as a Pathfinder.

The Pathfinders were target-marking squadrons in RAF Bomber Command during WWII. They located and marked targets with flares, which a main bomber force would aim at, increasing the accuracy of the bombing missions.

Flying De Havilland Mosquitos, Boles – from Mellons Bay – was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). His citation read: “Acting Squadron Leader Boles as Pilot, has completed numerous operations against the enemy, in the course of which he has invariably shown the utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty”.

About 6000 young New Zealanders served in RAF Bomber Command in WWII. Of these, around 2000 did not return, almost one in three. Almost half of all the aircrew who served in Bomber Command, nearly 56,000, were killed.

At the time of his birthday last year, there were fewer than 20 known surviving Bomber Command veterans in New Zealand and the New Zealand Bomber Command Association is aware of just five surviving pilots.

Boles was a foundation member of the Pathfinders Association and The New Zealand Bomber Command Association where he served a period as vice president.

Boles and his late wife Margaret moved to Howick in 1958, first residing in Kelsey’s Fencible Cottage while building their forever home in Mellons Bay.

Their son and two daughters grew up in idyllic surroundings and all attended Mellons Bay School where Boles, as a founding parent, pitched in with parent-led work including helping build the school’s swimming pool.

A mechanical engineer, Boles worked until his mid-80s, running his own light engineering business.

Boles was a regular shopper, driving his white Holden Commodore through Howick and parking in the disabled spaces to run his errands.

“His car boasted personalised plates reflecting his beloved RAF 109 Squadron in which he served during the war as squadron leader,” said Popping.

“Keith was a much-loved figure in the Howick businesses and banks he frequented and was missed after his necessary move to a rest home.

“Commemorating Anzac Days on Stockade Hill were one of the highlights of his year and he only missed a few due to his reduced mobility.”

His death notice read: “Much loved husband of the late Margaret Boles and companion of the late Sheila Austin. Cherished father of Peter, Sue and Sally and father-in-law of Lynda, Andries and David. Adored Grandfather of Sarah, Alex, Emma, and Jeremy and their partners Alex, Tayla, Tim and Cara. Loving Great Grandfather (GGPa) of Chloe, Frieda, Ted, Isla and Sadie. Former Vice-President of the New Zealand Bomber Command Assn. He is flying his Mosquito again.

Keith will be dearly missed by all those who were part of his incredible life.

Given the current settings, a private cremation will be held. When allowed, a memorial service will be held for our wonderful Dad, Father-in-law, Grandpa, GGPa, friend and highly-esteemed war veteran. Our sincere thanks to the loving staff and Dr Wong of Ambridge Rose Manor.”

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